teaching kids about giving during the holidays

Holiday giving is a tradition worth passing on. Give your kids a break from the buying of and begging for gifts to show them how giving benefits the community – and them.

Even during a good year, it’s so easy to fall into the holiday trap of buy-buy-buy, go-go-go madness. Oddly enough, I think this year has been one of the hardest for me.

A few weeks ago, my oldest son said to me, “We need to make Christmas epic this year to make up for everything we’re missing.”

Well, my mom guilt kicked in, and I’ve been rising to that challenge ever since. VR headset? Check. Christmas light tour with hot cocoa and extra loud Christmas music? Check. Continually asking my boys if there’s anything ELSE they would like this year? I’m ashamed to say this: double-check. I’ve spent the last few weeks looking to make 2020 up to my kids, and I’ve been doing it in all the wrong ways. They do not need more stuff this year (I write that to remind myself of its truth). What they need is to know that they’re loved. Fortunately, that’s covered. They also need to know that they can have a positive impact on the world. That everything isn’t totally out of their control.

That’s why we’re talking a lot about giving this year.

My husband and I have always been big into teaching the boys about giving as a habit. Whenever they get money, they divide it into spend, save, and give jars. The “save” money goes into their savings accounts, and the “give” money accumulates in the jar for a few months until we ask them who they’d like to help.

This is a habit we’ve gotten out of in this year of the pandemic. But those give jars are looking pretty healthy. It’s time to talk about where that money is going. So here’s how I approach talking to my children about giving, why it matters, and why this year when more than ever, the world needs more givers and helpers.

We have what we need and more

The first lesson is a critical reminder. We have a home. Food. Safety. Health. And some extra money. We have everything we need, and more.

This is a reminder to STOP asking for things we don’t need and to look at what others in our community are going without. There are children near where we live who don’t have enough to eat; 40% don’t know where their next meal is coming from. There are thousands of foster care kids who don’t have relationships; they can depend on the term. There are kids in the ICU in our city who don’t know if they’ll ever get to see their homes again.  There are so many who have less than they need. When we have more than we need, it’s our job to give. That’s a simple fact that all children will agree with because they understand the concept of “fairness.” And reinforcing this lesson year after year, day after day increases your chance of raising generous adults who will give frequently.

Kids need to know that they can have a positive impact on the world. That everything isn’t totally out of their control.

What change do you want to make in the world?

Talk to your children about what is most important to them. Is it making sure that other children have enough to eat? Funding research around a disease that has impacted someone that they care about? Do they feel strongly that every child should have access to a computer? Or that senior citizens in need should have a friend to talk to?

What needs do they see as most critical in the world? What change would they most like to make?

When I talk to my sons about this, I’m always surprised and delighted at how answers are. My oldest, ever practical, is strongly focused on the need for everyone to have a home. If you don’t have a home, he rationalizes, how can you have a job? How can you do good in the world? How can you feel safe? He sees the home as the foundation of all good in life. His focus is on two organizations in our city that keep families in their homes through financial hardship. They also help homeless citizens find stable living arrangements.

My youngest is a different animal entirely. He believes it is the height of injustice that kids out there can’t go to theater classes or get access to art supplies. To him, these things create joy in the world. So his giving is centered around the children’s theatre in our town that provides free access to fantastic performances, education, and buying art supplies to lower-income schools. The point is that the giving is personal to each of them. And they feel like what they’re doing has a profound impact on the world because it’s an impact they understand at the heart level.

Do the research

While we point our boys in the general direction of causes that align with what they care about, we give them general search terms. We let them find organizations and let them tell us about what they’ve discovered. Sometimes they find new organizations to explore. Sometimes they find something about an organization that makes them not want to give to them. Sometimes, their attention gets too spread out, and we need to gently to the exercise’s purpose. But in the end, our sons have participated in the process of choosing charities. They almost always have become advocates for the organizations they’ve researched and selected. In the past, we’ve had the boys give us formal presentations. Now, we’ve found that the best approach for our family is giving each of them an hour to research with some guidance. Then we talk about their findings over dinner that night and help them make their choices. 

Our sons participate in the process of choosing charities. And they almost always become advocates for the organizations that they’ve researched and selected.

Wrap giving in joy

When we’re not under the shadow of a global pandemic, we love participating in a volunteer opportunity for the kids’ charities of choice. On the way home, we’ll grab a meal together and talk about what we’ve learned. It’s a way to reinforce the lesson that giving is good, it creates joy, and it’s an experience that’s always positive.

This year, we’re still trying to figure out what that experience looks like. We’ll likely just have the kids give online. Instead of a grand outing and volunteer experience, I’m going to have the boys talk to a program director at their charity of choice and find out what they actually need – specific items, fostering greater awareness, a push for a state-level policy change, etc. From there, we’ll try to design our own volunteer project so the boys can experience that same level of personal impact.

In early 2021, when we sit down to do our taxes, we’ll likely mention to the kids the concept of tax-deductibility – both of cash and in-kind gifts. But this isn’t ever a focus. I’d rather they remember the feeling of injustice they were trying to solve, the empowerment of coming up with a plan for putting money to use to help make a difference, and the joy felt from actually taking action. 

When it comes to how we manage money, I want my kids to internalize those lessons, rather than thinking about what’s in it for their bottom lines come tax time. 


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